Put a bell on toddlers’ belts to more easily locate them

From Will, Hedra’s husband!

When your toddlers start to walk around, it can be tiring to track their presence at all times, especially in crowded areas, or in the outdoors. When we had this situation while on vacation in Vermont, we bought a souvenir cowbell for Brendan that he loved to wear, and that let us know where he was at all times. And most importantly, let us know when he stopped moving.

When the girls started walking we bought them bells too, making sure that 1) they are nice sounding, and 2) they sounded different. We made a loop of elastic and hung the bells on that with mini-carabineer clips. They love their bells, eagerly letting us put them on, because they make a nice sound and we let them run around with more freedom when they have the bells. When they don’t want the bells, the rule is “bell or hold my hand”.

Hedra adds:

1) While they get to roam more freely, we’re not talking racing off miles ahead. Just ‘longer than arms reach’ up to a reasonable distance for parental leaping-to-the-rescue depending on conditions. Mainly this is ‘retractable dog-leash’ distances – fairly close most of the time, some capacity to roam more if appropriate.

2) You can also tell speed and type of movement by the cadence of the ringing. Ding … ding … ding… (walking) or ding-ding-ding-ding! (running) or DING-ding-DING-ding (hopping) or ding-ding-CLATTER-silence (tripping and falling) or ding-ding-ding … ding … … ding … silence (distracted by shiny object or animal or general forbidden items).

3) Bonus, kids like to make loud noises. Here’s one that’s allowed! (Big tip – pick a bell that doesn’t make you wince when it rings)

4) Cow bells, turkey bells (like cow bells but smaller), and brass bells (like the Indian and other ‘asian’ bells you can get for door chimes) all should work well. Smaller jingle bells aren’t loud enough (big ones may be, but might not ring on every step). Something that swings a bit with every stride is good (hence the carabineers, also).

5) Great for camping or other situations where you might look away or be blocked from sight for a moment in normal play (I hate that instant panic when the child vanishes when you glance away and back again!). Or where they could get distracted by something cool and just walk in a different direction while you’re pulling out the money for the ice cream cone. Zoos, parks, parades (if not overly noisy), rest areas, botanical gardens, some museums, family reunions, birthday parties for older siblings, smaller out-door music events, etc,

Related: Add a homemade “alarm” to your bedroom door


  1. says

    Ok, that’s really cool. This might be my favorite hack in a long time. It helps that my 15month old son finally decided to start walking, so it’s a matter of days before he doesn’t need someone to hold his hand while he does it and he’ll be off to the races.

    And thanks, too, for the reference to those damnable “retractable dog leashes” and the suggestion that you can keep track of your child without having to tether him to you.

    Let the “I need more cowbell” Christopher Walken references begin! My wife’s going to have no idea what I’m talking about.

  2. says

    Great hack. As an added bonus, the bells scare aware bears and other large child-eating mammals. You know, if you’re camping and are worried about that kind of thing. :)

    Kidding aside, I just bought my 6 y.o a pair of Sketchers that had a tiny little jingle bell attached to the laces. It’s great, especially when we’re crossing the street or walking somewhere as a group … I instantly know where she is without even turning my head.

  3. Richard says

    Another related one is to NOT fix that squeaky front/back/basement/etc. door/gate/etc. I can always tell when my 7-year-old is headed out the front door by the creaking and squeaking, even if he doesn’t let the storm door slam behind him. I got the idea from my in-laws, who have not oiled their gate in years so they have a few seconds warning when someone is coming or going.

  4. says

    I never belled my son when out in public, but I found a single bell diaper-pinned to the back of his shirt quite helpful for keeping track of his whereabouts in the house at this stage.

  5. says

    In Singapore, especially in Chinese culture, we do give a more refine children anklet made of gold with bell on it as birthday gifts for babies or toddlers. It is much more refine for small legs than these. Any of your friends going to either Singapore and Hong Kong, go to the goldsmith boutique and ask for such. Won’t cost more than US$100. http://www.parentingblessings.com

  6. Kerry says

    This is a great idea!! At the risk of pointing out the obvious, I would add to please make sure the bell and its components are not something your child might choke on.

  7. Jen says

    Kinda sorta the same thing: when grocery shopping, we stop at the balloon counter first to get a free (store-branded) helium balloon. I tie it to a wrist or belt loop and it makes them much easier to keep track of… and you don’t run over them when they insist on walking in front of the shopping cart! Of course, you have to be aware of a balloon’s safety hazards.

  8. Anonymous says


    Another squeaky shoe fan, here.

    A squeaky shoe or bell necklace is a fun toy for a kid and a great and safe way to alert the parent to a wandering child. IMO it provides more freedom for the child, not less… so that leash reference makes no sense at all.

  9. soozey says

    Do people really put bells on their kids? Really? I would be “aware of the safety hazards” of annoying the rest of the world with bells and loud shoes and instead keep my kids close and teach them to stay with me or we leave. My kid doesn’t need freedom in the grocery store…where does everyone use the bells? Just curious.

  10. Jill in Atlanta says

    Jen: Latex (the free) balloons are a terrible choking hazard and should not be given to young children. If broken/bitten they are easily aspirated and coat the inside of the windpipe with a nice layer of suffocating latex. They aren’t even allowed into hospitals. Go with bells if anything.

  11. says

    Maybe this will be an appealing hack to me when my daughter gets more mobile but considering I purposefully “drown” my child’s annoying toys in water to kill the sound features, I don’t see myself tying bells to my child.

    I mean, does anyone else find this a bit pet-ish?

  12. Sarah says

    My Mother laced small bells through our shoes as children, and I have done the same. When they’re wee and just kicking on the blanket, the jingle is cute, and when they get older, of course you can hear them in the other rooms of the house.

  13. Heather says

    This would totally drive me nuts, no matter how sweet-sounding the bell was. I wonder if these kids will HATE bells when they grow up?
    Somehow I keep track of my 2 and 5 year olds without bells or leashes. I guess I use my eyes and ears instead…

  14. Nacho's Mama says

    THIS IS THE BEST!! So sorry for those of you who don’t have smart, adventurous kids. My mother had tiny bells on my shoes and I put them on my son’s shoes too. They also have some that you tuck their tied shoelaces into, solving two problems at once. It saved me so many times… like when I looked away to pay the cashier at the grocery or pick up something he dropped. That is when 3 year olds are able to run at seemingly lightning speeds. No one ever complained to me and we lived in a community with many retirees, Arizona.

  15. DadofV says

    I’d like to point out the obvious choking/stangulation hazard associated with a small bell on a necklace and toddlers. may i suggest a great alternative? use a “zip tie” to attach the bell to one of the eyelets of one or both shoes. (the eyelet is the little hole that the laces pass through)trim the excess with a fingernail clipper, and file the sharp end down with a nail file.

  16. With No Way says

    Am I missing something here? Do all of the people that love this hack live in giant mansions that you lose your kids in? And if so can’t you hired staff keep tabs on the little ones? :) I just can’t imagine collaring my kid like this (not that it is bad for the kid or anything). I just don’t get it! I do like the tip of not oiling your doors/gates though!

  17. hedra says

    Wanted to update – the NECKLACE idea is a misinterpretation. They’re *BELTS*. Wide elastic straps around waist as a belt, carabiner added, with bell. And of course, not choking-hazard sizes (including the clapper of the bell – we swapped one off for something larger on one of the bells).

    I’m not opposed to leashes for kids, in certain conditions, and with twins, I certainly can appreciate their benefits (though our kids would be unlikely to tolerate them). That said, for wandering around in the woods… leashes are not so handy. And when there’s a steep drop-off nearby, but we also want our kids to explore the bugs and dirt without always having us hovering nearby… bells work.

    And so far, the kids still are absolutely enamored of music, bells included. It helps that we don’t use the bells as a way of maintaining POWER over the kids, but as a way of helping us identify where they are at all times, without having to always be on top of them. The bell is information, not control. They are also not used all the time, and always with the child’s permission. The other alternative(s) may not be their favorites, but they are also always available, and are sometimes preferred by the kids.

    With four kids, two of them twins, and all of them easily diverted with the joy of exploration, the bells help. I could keep track of two kids reasonably well in most situations without the bells. But add in two more, in our case twins, and things get tricky at times. Even with two, if you’ve *ever* had a child slip away from you in a store or a crowd, you know the panic. How many of us have either heard the panicked calling out in a store, or been the one trying to locate a preschooler bent on an adventure? Bell = much less panic, and also = faster finding.

    Case in point, Williamsburg VA, family reunion. Helping two kids with their meals, one of the others (one of the twin preschoolers) scarpered. In a crowd, with music and many voices covering the sounds, and many people moving around making a lot of visual ‘noise’ as well. A sister-in-law heard the direction of the bell, and found her, crouched down and hiding behind a tree. We would have been unlikely to look there, ourselves.

    For those of you whose kids are not duck-and-run types, rejoice! (I disagree with the implication that they’re less smart if they’re less adventuresome – just different type of kid.) Be glad you won’t ever feel the need to add to the arsenal and know that your eyes and ears are enough on their own. For those of us whose kids find joy in exploration at full speed, it may help. (I also want to mention that I have a partial hearing loss, and some sounds are very hard for me to track – again, the bell can help by picking one *I* can hear.)

    Hope that clarifies the misunderstandings…

  18. hedra says

    (Oh, and for the ‘pet-ish’ thing, yeah, we’ve noticed the similarity. The purpose is different, though, and the kids – even the now-almost-6-year-old second child who started it all – seek out the bells when we’re going adventuring – they are super-attuned to autonomy, so they’d just resist if they felt disenfranchised by it. Come to think of it, one reason I did NOT put them on shoes was because then they would not be able to muffle the bell if they chose to do so. Our kids DO muffle the bells at times, with their hands, and do also at times ask them to be removed. Those actions are not punished. The cat has no choice. The child does.

    IMHO, it isn’t much different from saying ‘call me and let me know where you are/when you get there’ to a teen.)

  19. hedra says

    Oy. With No Way – we live in a very tiny little house with a tiny little yard. We use this when we’re out in the woods, or in a crowd. Read the hack all the way through? I’d say we use them maybe once a month or so, unless we’re on vacation, when we use them almost daily (large playgrounds are also a good place for them, when we have four who want to play on different things…).

  20. wdskmom says

    I love this idea. No, it isn’t for every situation, but even at home, our 2 yr old can get into things in another room & I’d love to have an idea of if he’s on the move or not without having to go & check every time. …& no, we don’t have a mansion. I wouldn’t use it in stores as I’d never let them out of my sight, period.

  21. says

    what if it catches on and everyone has them? you’ll be hearing bells all around, it’ll be like when everyone is John Malkovich.

  22. hedra says

    Shirky, LOL! That scene in that movie gave me nightmares… loved the movie, but yikes.

    We have told people that there’s an automatic failure point – when enough other people (in any venue) start using this hack, it will no longer be useful.

  23. says

    ok, this is a little weird for me since I do this already with my dog. Although I must say I would probably feel more comfortable with this than those parents who actually leash their kids (god help them)

  24. says

    We use bear bells…. you can buy them at REI… they are on a short strap with velcro… just perfect for a baby wrist. And, well, great for warning off bears… it is chokecherry season.

    As to the why…. we have a garHUGEic yard that is not fenced. I like the additional warning that the baby is heading for the garage or the porch steps so I can head her off before she actually GETS there.

    It certainly isn’t a replacement for watching your kid but it does allow me to get more done and have more fun with her in the yard.

    Actually, now that I think about it… it is more that as long as you can hear the bells you know she’s moving… when the bells stop… it means she’s into something!

    And the dog? The dog would totally be offended by wearing a bell…. he thinks he’s just our very hairy firstborn.

  25. says

    Soozy, Of course children need freedom in supermarkets. They shouldn’t be treated like parolees. They need to explore independently in order to learn both intellectual information as well as emotional security. Guard your kids too stiffly and they’ll have that much more trouble adjusting to life on their own.

  26. says

    With No Way,

    Kids can get into serious, life-threatening harm at a young age, even when the parent is within a few yards. It’s not needed *all* the time, but there are plenty of times when you’re responsible for a newly-toddled toddler and also responsible for getting the laundry done. Turn your head for more than three seconds, and that’s all the time little Sheila or Malcolm need to unscrew the cap on the nail polish/floor wax/simple green/whatever. No house is completely toddler-proof, in the same way as no house is burglary-proof. You may not have security cams at your house, but I’ll bet your front door has a lock on it.

  27. Anonymous says

    Putting them on the shoes- good idea- the necklace, not so good–
    1- my toddlers ( i ahve 2 yr old twins) can take this off- or 2- it is a strangling hazard if they are where you aren’t able to keep a close eye on them.
    I am with some of the others though– will they grow up to HATE bells?

  28. says

    Reminds me too much of putting a bell on my cat.

    I think I can keep an eye on my son without putting a collar on him.:)

    Hey, but you never know…some parents may really need it!

  29. Parent Hacks Editor says

    Hi all: hedra just corrected me. The “necklace” part of this hack was my mistaken assumption. They use bells on belts, not around the neck. Sorry for the confusion.

  30. says

    The bells are especially useful around large animals — I had a friend who took her kids horse packing when they were little. The bells were great for keeping the horses informed if there was a little one darting around (or if one of the escape artists took off into the woods). And an informed horse is far less likely to startle and kick — might also be a good trick if you’re a rider and have the kids around the barn …

  31. Darryl says


    I did the same thing with my 2.5yo daughter at the supermarket. Tied a free balloon to her belt loop so I could track her better. When I did that, I was so proud when one supermarket worker said to me, “I’ve worked here for years and that’s the best idea I’ve seen.”

    Great minds… :)